LDP Paraguay candidate seeks absentee-vote reform

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Unlike other candidates who would be rallying in Tokyo or their hometowns for the July 11 House of Councilors election, Michio Takakura will be spending his first week of official campaigning in the United States, Paraguay and Brazil.

Takakura, a resident in Paraguay for 28 years, said he decided to run in the Upper House election as he was frustrated by a “flawed” voting system that remains inconvenient and discriminates against Japanese living abroad.

Calling himself “the Rainbow Bridge between Japan and overseas,” Takakura, 63, said he felt the need for opinions of overseas Japanese to be represented in Japanese politics.

“Since the election law was amended in 1998, we (overseas Japanese) have been allowed to vote in the proportional representation section of national elections, but this is just half of the full voting rights we ought to be getting,” Takakura told Kyodo News in a recent interview in Tokyo.

Japanese living abroad are not eligible to vote in the constituency section of national elections.

Takakura will run in the proportional representation segment as a candidate of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Takakura publishes the Japanese-language newspaper Nikkei Journal in Paraguay, where he obtained permanent residency while maintaining his Japanese citizenship.

He started his campaign in Los Angeles on Thursday, the first day of official campaigning. He will then hold a rally in Asuncion on Saturday and in San Paulo on Sunday before returning to Japan on Wednesday.

“We live abroad holding Japanese passports and think of ourselves as Japanese. But in reality, we are not being considered so” by the Japanese government and society, he said. “I want the overseas voting procedures simplified, and I suggest that overseas constituencies be created for Japanese living abroad to vote in.”

Takakura, who moved from his hometown in Oita Prefecture to Paraguay in 1976, criticized the overseas voting procedures as being “too time consuming and costly,” as voters have to register in person in advance at Japanese embassies or consulates general to be eligible to cast ballots.

He said the lack of candidates representing the interests of Japanese living abroad and the fact that they are barred from voting in the constituency section of elections are also factors that have kept overseas voters from participating.

As of Tuesday, only 83,000 of an estimated 683,000 eligible voters living abroad have registered to cast overseas ballots in the Upper House election, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Takakura said he hopes to gain votes mostly from overseas, his home prefecture, and Aichi Prefecture, where many workers from South America of Japanese descent reside.

An LDP election official, who asked not to be named, admitted the party is fielding Takakura with expectations that he can attract overseas ballots for the LDP. But the official declined to provide details on the targeted number of votes.

The impact of overseas votes, however, is likely to remain limited, as they constitute only a minute portion of the total number of eligible voters in Japan.

According to the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry, which oversees elections, there were 102 million eligible voters nationwide as of September.

In November’s general election for the House of Representatives, only 15.93 percent of the 73,000 overseas voters who registered actually cast ballots.

In hopes of getting more overseas Japanese to vote, the government eased regulations by allowing more people to cast their ballots by post instead of in person.

Until now, voters living within a certain distance from a Japanese diplomatic establishment where they can cast ballots must do so in person and not by mail. Effective from the July election, such people can also send their votes in the mail.

But other problems still remain. For example, Ground Self-Defense Force troops deployed to southern Iraq and Air Self-Defense Force members stationed in Kuwait on an aid mission are not eligible to cast overseas votes in July because they do not fulfill the requirement of having lived in one place abroad for three months or longer.

Maritime Self-Defense Force members on vessels can vote through a different category that allows for absentee ballots to be cast on ships at sea or docked at foreign ports, and does not have the three-month requirement.